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Welcome to the February 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions!

As introduced last month, our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

February Topic: When Words are More Effective than Actions

Premise: A key success factor in effecting transformational change in organizations that use Appreciative Inquiry is a focus on language rather than on action. Find out how words can have a dramatic, positive impact in the workplace.

This month's theme is "the ROI (return on investment) of appreciative language." In my experience, few people are aware of how powerful and life-changing our words can be. Because people's behaviors are a consequence of their thoughts, words, and beliefs, we literally can guide others' behaviors in a positive direction or in a negative one. No doubt you have experienced brilliant ideas that have been praised and accepted, and others that have been shot down. What was each situation like for you? The point is, there is a striking difference in performance when people consciously use affirmative language and positive questions. And words do not cost anything!

The Feature Article, "The Transformative Power of Appreciative Language," explains how the words we use and the questions we ask are critical to our ability to change organizational culture, or to create a more productive and energized work environment -regardless of the state of the economy. Find out how framing situations in positive ways causes remarkable shifts in performance and behavior.

In "Transformative Questions for the Workplace," the Business Solutions section lists twenty questions whose answers can have a powerful impact on your organization by focusing attention on the positive, energy-producing aspects of the workplace.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Transformative Self-talk" describes how language directs behaviors. It lists a dozen affirmative questions designed to enhance or dramatically improve the way you view yourself.

I invite you to visit my web site at to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!


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The Transformative Power of Appreciative Language

During times of uncertainty, people expect their leaders more than ever to set the tone and direction for their organizations. The fact that people throughout the world are pinning their hopes for positive outcomes on President Obama is but one example of how desperately people want to hear good news and experience good times. How can you as a leader step up to this challenge? It's as simple as choosing the words you use.

One way to set an affirmative tone, regardless of circumstances, is to make a conscious decision to use language that causes people to seek the positive rather than the negative. For example, many organizations are facing severe budget constraints. Consider the difference in the likely behaviors engendered by these alternative approaches:

"We can't do this project because we don't have any money."

"Given existing resources, what can we do?"

A positive approach is especially effective in helping organizations move forward productively despite a disastrous scenario. Asking negative questions (e.g., "Whose idea was it to do it this way?") directs people's attention to a past that cannot be changed, it causes defensiveness because we are seeking to blame someone, and it does nothing to move the organization forward. On the other hand, asking positive questions (e.g., "What did we do well in this situation?") causes people to focus on what worked and to identify ways of incorporating those things into future situations to produce different outcomes. Instead of exhibiting defensive behavior, people will be empowered to concentrate and build on strengths that will enable the organization to be successful.

Language, especially the questions we ask, is critical to organizational success because we tend to find the things we seek. In fact, questions have been characterized as "fateful" because they send us in either positive or negative directions to search for answers. Consider two different ways of viewing a performance management process:

"How can we use performance management to correct employee behavior?"

"How can we use performance management to help employees become fully successful?"

In the first example, managers actively search for things employees do wrong. In the second example, they seek ways to support the success of their employees. In which environment would you prefer to work?

The words we say and the questions we ask create mental pictures that guide our behaviors. Consequently, language is a critical determinant of workplace performance. Thus if you want to optimize your organization's results, I suggest you consider the implications of your answer to this question: What kind of language are you using?

For examples of affirmative questions that can help transform your workplace, see the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.

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Transformative Questions for the Workplace

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a systematic way of viewing the world, as well as a framework for effecting change by focusing on the positive. The language used and the questions asked in the AI model are stimulating and provocative. Their purpose is to inspire people to discover new ways of viewing their environment so they may transform it into a sustainable, life-affirming entity. Here are twenty questions you may use with individuals or with groups to focus attention on the positive, energy-producing aspects of any workplace.

  1. What was the most life-affirming moment you experienced yesterday?
  2. What was the most inspiring compliment you heard a customer pay us?
  3. What was the most motivating aspect of this meeting for you?
  4. Of what accomplishments this week are you most proud?
  5. What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
  6. What qualities do you most appreciate about our organization?
  7. What significant contributions did your team make this week?
  8. In what ways did we delight our customers today?
  9. How did we provide seamless service to our customers today?
  10. What makes you an exceptional team member?
  11. What do you value most about your team?
  12. How did your decisions contribute to providing the best possible outcome?
  13. How does our team support each other's strengths?
  14. How did you significantly enhance our team's performance today?
  15. What person or persons bring out the best in you, and how do they do it?
  16. How do you demonstrate inspiring leadership?
  17. Which stories reflecting our corporate culture would you like to be telling newcomers to our organization three years from now?
  18. What kind of recognition inspires your best performance?
  19. What is most valuable about the work that you do?
  20. What are the opportunities you see to do more with less?


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Transformative Self-talk

Just as asking life-affirming questions and using bold, provocative language lead to transformation in organizations, those behaviors can initiate equally dramatic results in one's personal life. The principles of Appreciative Inquiry hold true in any context: the questions we ask point us in the direction of the things we will find. If we seek people, situations, and behaviors that are positive, we certainly will find them - in abundance. In contrast, when we find negative things, most likely it is because we are looking for them, intentionally or otherwise. And their numbers will be legion.

To see how easy it is to change our behavior by the perspectives we choose, try this quick exercise. Think of an upcoming social engagement or event about which you feel ambivalent. Now jot down all the reasons why your going would be a really bad idea. Your list is likely to cause you to decline the invitation immediately! Next, write down all the reasons why you would love to attend. Without a doubt, that list will make you wonder why you ever considered skipping the event!

The point is, the way we talk to ourselves (and others) creates our reality, which means that we get to choose how to experience the situations with which we are faced. Do we want to go down a life-affirming path, or an energy-draining path? Our behavior will follow the images we envision based on the words we select and the questions we ask. Each of us has total control over our language. By the questions we pose, we can guide others to go in positive or negative directions as well.

Here are a dozen suggestions for affirmative self-talk that can dramatically affect your perspective:

  1. What are my most exceptional qualities?
  2. How do I feel when I am most alive and energized?
  3. In what ways do I inspire others?
  4. What is the kindest thing I can do for myself today?
  5. What opportunities are presented in this seemingly negative situation?
  6. If someone else were in my situation, what is the most uplifting advice I could provide?
  7. What strengths have made me successful in my personal relationships?
  8. What is the most inspiring thing I have seen or heard today?
  9. How can I incorporate those things I am most passionate about into my everyday life?
  10. What do I value most about the talents I have been given?
  11. What am I most proud of achieving in my life up until now?
  12. If my friends were recommending me for a job for which I am fully qualified, what would they say?


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Date of Publication: February, 2009 | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch